North Korea will be skipping the Tokyo Olympics this year, citing concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic.
The isolated country’s Sports Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday, Apr. 6, that the decision was made to “protect” its athletes from “the global health crisis caused by the vicious virus pandemic”, Nikkei Asia reported.
North Korea is the first nation so far to officially pull out of the sporting event, which was originally scheduled to take place last year, but was later postponed due to the pandemic.
It’s also the first Summer Olympics that North Korea has withdrawn from since it boycotted the 1988 Seoul Olympics, according to Australian Associated Press.
No inter-Korean talks for now
The decision dashed South Korea’s hopes of making use of the event to engage with North Korea and talk about various issues, including denuclearisation.
Just days earlier, Seoul submitted a proposal to the International Olympic Committee to co-host the 2032 Summer Olympics with Pyongyang.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga had also indicated his willingness to engage with North Korea, previously saying that he is open to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, The Japan Times reported.
The leader had said he would follow his predecessor Shinzo Abe’s North Korea policy of willing to meet with Kim “without preconditions”.
North Korea has maintained that it has no Covid-19 cases at all. Since the onset of the pandemic, it has imposed strict border controls to prevent the virus from spreading into its territory.
Tokyo Olympics faces hiccups
Japan is currently dealing with a fourth wave of Covid-19 cases driven by variants of the virus, which is throwing a spanner into its plans for the Olympics.
A water polo test event scheduled for the weekend has been cancelled, as overseas officials are not able to make it to Japan due to Covid-19 restrictions.
In addition, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) has cancelled its Olympic qualifiers in Tokyo as well.
Top image by JUNG YEON-JE via AFP/Getty Images